In this episode of Scambook TV, Kevan has a special news report from New South Wales, Australia. He tells us about a scary new smishing trend that has targeted thousands of Australians in the past few months, telling potential victims that someone has been hired to kill them. Although these fake assassin fraud texts haven’t reached the United States yet, Kevan wants to get the word out before they do. Kevan begins by reminding us that smishing refers to a phishing message sent to victims via SMS text message. In other words, it’s a spam text that tries to steal your personal info or get you involved in a financial fraud scheme. Usually, smishing texts promise you a free $1000 Walmart or Best Buy Gift Card if you take a survey, or they might warn you that your bank account has been frozen and you need to reply with your PIN to unlock it. But in Australia, CNN reports that thousands of cell phone users have received a text message from a phony hit man. In these these text messages, which have mostly targeted the elderly, the fake assassin says that someone has paid them to kill you, but they’ll spare your life if you send $5000 to a Yahoo email address. These text messages are not real. Kevan advises users to ignore these text messages or report them to your local police and Scambook.
Emus. Kangaroos. Koalas. Billabongs. Vegemite. As Kevan has discovered, there are a lot of weird things in Australia, and things that are strange or unfamiliar can often be frightening. But our intrepid Scambook correspondent finds that the scariest Australian thing is just a new twist on a classic mobile phone fraud scheme: smishing.
With an estimated 4 billion people using SMS (short message service) texts on their cell phones, it’s no wonder that cybercriminals have developed complex texting schemes to steal your personal information or rip you off. Fraud experts coined the term “smishing” from SMS and “phishing,” a term for fake emails that “fish” for your bank account numbers or other data stored on your computer, such as your address and Social Security number, which the fraudsters could use to access your account and credit card, hack your computer or commit identity theft. These unsolicited spam emails take many forms, and so do their mobile smishing counter-parts.
On Scambook, we receive thousands of complaints against smishing schemes that promise you a free $1000 Walmart, Best Buy, Kmart or Target gift card. These fake messages direct you to a website that asks you to fill out numerous surveys and sign up for various special offers or subscriptions. They waste your time and your money, and you never receive your gift card. Other smishing schemes try to exploit you with bogus claims that your bank account has been frozen. These texts ask you to reply back with your PIN or routing number to “unlock” your funds. Don’t fall for it. These messages aren’t from your bank and if you do reply, the con artists will have information that they can use to rob you.
The Australian Assassin Text smishing scheme uses the same principles as other smishing we’ve seen, but the villains behind this ugly mobile fraud are taking a new approach. They’re trying to get your money by making terrifying threats. The text that thousands of Australians received this summer said:
“Sum1 paid me to kill you get spared, 48 hours to pay $5000. If you inform the Police or anybody, death is promised…Email me now”
The message ended with a Yahoo email address, which law enforcement have since suspended as part of an ongoing investigation. Police in New South Wales believe that many of the recipients of these sham messages are elderly. Fraudsters often target senior citizens because they may be less familiar with technology than younger people and therefore less likely to question the authenticity of an unsolicited text or email. Sometimes, they’re also easier to frighten and intimidate, and they may be embarrassed to seek help from their family because they don’t want their loved ones to question their ability to take care of themselves. Fraud is always ugly, but this makes the Australian Assassin Text smishing scheme particularly awful. Many senior citizens live on a fixed income – imagine your grandma or grandpa financially burdened after giving $5000 to a cybercriminal posing as a hit man!
As Kevan explains in the video, Australian police are advising recipients to ignore these text messages and report them to local authorities. You can also submit a free complaint report on Scambook. Let’s review some tips about how to handle a smishing text:
1. Don’t believe it. Whether it’s a free Walmart Gift Card or a threat from a hired killer, smishing messages are never real. A legitimate company like Walmart won’t send you an unsolicited promotional offer, and if you really have won a free prize, you won’t have to fill out surveys or buy anything to receive it. Remember that a legit entity like a bank won’t ask for your password, PIN or routing number in a text message.
2. Ignore it. Never reply back. Even if you send “UNSUBSCRIBE” or “STOP”, you may be automatically enrolling your phone in a subscription service that will add huge monthly fees to your wireless bill. You’ll also let the fraudsters know that your number works. Often, these villains use computer programs to dial random numbers, so they don’t know if their messages are reaching real people. If you reply, you may receive even more smishing messages. The cost of these texts can really add up.
3. Report it. If you receive a smishing message, submit a report on Scambook and contact Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or whatever cell phone service you use. Your wireless company may be able to block the number and prevent you from receiving future spam messages. If you receive a text message that includes a threat, such as the Australian Assassin Text, you should also report it to your local law enforcement agency as soon as possible. Take a photo or screen shot of the text as evidence.
Whether or not you receive a suspicious text message, you should always read your phone
bill very carefully and check your bank accounts and credit cards every day. The sooner you notice an unauthorized charge — whether it’s a series of spam text messages or an actual subscription service that you were unknowingly signed up for — the sooner you can resolve it and get your money back.
At the Scambook Blog, we believe that one of the best ways to fight back against fraud is to prevent it from happening in the first place. We’re hoping to get the word out about the Australian Assassin Text before it hops the globe and exploits more people. If you or someone you know has received this text, you can file a report on Scambook and join our community to connect with other members. There’s always help. Don’t ever be embarrassed or afraid to ask for it!